Wouldn’t It Be Nice…

To be able to tune your mind to being for a few moments, minutes or even hours, to a frequency band that returns you to childhood play?  I think so…except I might forget to set the time limit and just stay there!  The image of this post does remind me of those days of being a boy, playing outdoors which is where I was mostly if it wasn’t too cold (never too hot, oddly…even in the Texas heat, but then we had no air conditioning at all).

I vividly recall this fallen, great oak tree, that was quite huge to me as a small boy.  It had to be quite “ancient” by normal standards, for it had lost all of its bark to age and insects, and had bleached in the sun to be a grayish white.  To me it served as Moby Dick, or as a great ship, or any number of “platforms,” even a big airplane.  I would run up and down it, out on its “tail fin”, up to its snout, fighting villains, leaping off its back to land several feet below, then run and leap upon it again, fighting my way back against huge odds.

Some years earlier I remember even at the age of four and five, how various objects my Daddy had sitting around, like his old one-horse trailer, that became in my fertile boy mind, a stage coach.  I would dress in my Hopalong Cassidy (yes kids, there actually was a movie character named that…look it up!) outfit that Mama had bought me, complete with boots and hat, and riding my stick horse Topper, race around the stage coach shooting at the bad guys who had stolen it and the gold it carried.  I would leap onto the stage coach, and arrest the horse team to bring it to a hard stop while shooting these bad guys.

In another post I may have mentioned me becoming a matador and fighting my pet goats.  Now that little play activity nearly got me hurt bad.  We had a few “Sancho” goats…orphaned goats our parents had raised by bottle feeding…and these preferred to stay inside our yard often, looking for more food, even after they were nearly grown.  I had discovered that if I pulled on the tail of one of these goats, it would turn around and butt me, much to my delight.  Somewhere I guess I had seen some bullfight scenes, and at that age that impressed me sufficiently to become one.  So I got a towel for a cape, and would pull the goat’s tail, and it would turn and “charge” me.  Well, that worked well and we were having lots of fun (at least I was, not sure about little goat), until on one pass the goat had had enough of pesky boy, pushed me against the yard wire fence.  Now I was actually about the same height as the goat, and it had full horns, and had pinned me against the fence with its head in my chest and its horns at my throat.  Of course, by then the fun had vanished, and sheer fear had set in and I was screaming my head off.  Mama came running thank goodness, to save her little matador.  Needless to say, that game was not on my play list afterwards.

I know many children in the world have little opportunity to freely play, but I have seen that around the world, even children living in the most dire circumstances do play.  Each place, time and nature of their play is spontaneous and captures their minds for a while, taking them to a place away from the mundane, or suffering, or the gnawing hunger in their little tummies.  Such is play.  It is what we were given to refresh ourselves a little bit, to have the strength to carry on.  Unfortunately most adults lose that faculty to activate their “play mind.”  Watching my little granddaughter, not even age two, play, is so amazing and wonderful, and is a catalyst to activate mine. Through her I can relive to a degree the feeling of play, a place devoid of time and real space, just joy, if just for a few moments.  But in play land, a moment in this dream time can be an hour.

Yes, if I could go back and reclaim my own “play mind”, I would in a heartbeat.  I have heard the question asked before, why are we humans born little and die as wrinkled, dull old folks (if we are so fortunate to live to old age).   It might be nice to be born somehow fully grown, fully wise, then get smaller and smaller, having more and more fun as our time expires.  Think about it.


Americans’ Obsession With Time

It has been many years since I passed through Grand Central Station, depicted in the image of this post.  It is a rather amazing place, if one is of a mind to stand to the side and just contemplate the movement of humans through this beautiful edifice.  As I recall, few people might be observed just standing waiting, for at rush hours in NYC, as anyone who has been there knows, if you stand still you will get run over.  Sad, but true.

As I say, I haven’t been to NYC in a very long time, but I vividly recall that each time, during the day when we were attempting to “make hay,” we were always in a trot to get somewhere.  Only in the evening, did the mass movement recede to the point where you could stroll along, which I took good advantage of, sightseeing, and cabbing to Greenwich Village to take in my favorite cuisine, jazz.

So it seems that we Americans have sort of a mathematically sliding scale sense of time, somewhat a “fuzzy” logarithmic perception it would seem.  We seem to think we have control time by stepping on or easing off our private time “mini-warp” pedals.  Each person, living in different environs also has their biases applied to their sense of time, whether innate to their temporal sense, or due to being caught up in a shared mass sense of time, such as the commuters moving through Grand Central twice a day.

Time is also at best an elusive subject to even discuss.  Our daily sense of time as Americans is typically purely temporal, but for some people, they have “escaped” temporal concerns, and are living in a more spiritual time base, not overly worried about today or this moment, thinking more in terms of being along an infinite time line.

We Americans sense of time may be rightfully said to be owned by we Americans.  One can look to any other country or area, or even tribal groups around the globe and each will have their own sense of time, the marking of time in their respective histories, and several having no sense of time, nor even tenses nor words to even recognize the “movement” of time (or humans movement along time?).

Time as a dimension in theoretical physics also becomes something really cool, as any Star Trek fan well knows.  But, sigh, for now we each are stuck with our “personalized” time.  In the day-to-day (7 x 24) world of America’s workdays, time equals money.  Everything we do in the workday, if it is about our work, time and money are for practical use, the same domains.  Projects work against deadlines.  Why? To minimize cost and maximize profit.  Perhaps artists and musicians are not even immune to this, for artists may have a date to make an art show, and musicians have time = money sessions in studios.

No doubt this aspect is not just an American phenomenon, but is typical of “developed” countries.  However, that sense of time, the sense to maximize profit by constricting time, does vary across the industrialized world, and it is proven in some societies for employers and workers to be less concerned about the extremes we live with here, while they also experience greater work/life balance, and actually spend less time working.

Having recently retired I can say that one can definitely adjust to a “time change.”  My days, as with most retirees, seem quite long, like time has stretched, and I have “more time” to do the things I want to do.  There is truly a joy in not feeling the pressure that most Americans works under, driven by this American sense of time.

So I do hope for America’s sake, we can find a way to alter our sense of time, and our purpose for even being here.  Can we carve out more time to relax, allow our minds to be still, to be led to a sense where there is no time, just a state of joyful being?

OK, I have run out of time I allotted to write this!  Bye for now.

The Elephant in Our American Classrooms

The news often carries stories of aging school buildings, poorly maintained, particularly in the “rust belt”of our nation, or poor rural towns and  inner-city areas.  We also see many stories that compare our educational system to those of other nations, indicating that American students continue to rank far, far below the top performing nations.  These education comparisons typically are based on test scores for “reading, writing and arithmetic”, and other factors such as teacher/student ratios, et cetera.  This in itself is very sad, given the resources the United States has at its disposal.  However, there is another aspect of our educational system which, after observing particularly the last ten years of our political strife, leads me to one conclusion.

We just don’t see the elephant in our classrooms:  the absence of teaching students how to critically analyze subjects.  I contend that if our youth were taught, from their early years, right on through secondary curricula, and for those going on to four year colleges, there too, how to think (not what to think), then our political discourse actually would result in promoting our society at large, to the betterment of all, as opposed to what we see hour by hour in the news today.

Critical analysis requires working with facts – not alternative facts – validating “givens”, searching for the true themes, testing hypotheses, challenging the “story”, the logic of the story’s elements, and generally not just accepting, prima facie, any content we see in the media.  Of course, we could also extend this to discourse in general, whether conversation at the family breakfast table, or bullshitting at the bar during happy hour.

As I write this our nation is embroiled in what effectively is a civil war, a battle for the future of this country.  I give thanks every day that I live in this country, a nation of laws, at times irrational and unfounded on truth, but one that endures,  one that had a Civil War, and continues to evolve.  How this will play out, no one can know.  Personally I have faith, that the arc of moral justice is long, but sure, to paraphrase a famous quote.  But I do think we would be wise to wipe our eyes, and begin to see this elephant, in whatever color or colors we best see.  Unless we begin to teach our students the refined “art” of critical analysis, we will continue to be locked in a battle for generations to come, even though the stakes will change.  I suppose one could argue that the struggle makes us stronger – if it doesn’t kill this country completely.  However, I would rather advocate for minimizing the struggle, because it by in large is predicated on conflicting opinions, neither of which in any situation is grounded in reason, vis-a-vis critical analysis. While we are human and not Vulcan (a la Star Trek), when our arguments are mostly emotional, based on unfounded bias or predisposition, devoid of logic or fact, we collectively will progress slowly, at best.  The great mishap that we are allowing to ominously reach the precipice, that which could be the undoing of the civilization we “enjoy”, is due to our inability to critically analyze and fully appreciate its cause and its danger:  climate change.  So, the wages of non-critical thinking are dire indeed.

No Music, No Life

7 a.m., and I awoke thinking about what I could write about today.  Early morning is when I am most in touch with my inner being, and the joy I get from writing is totally a function of the subject springing forth from my spirit.  So at this dawn, it dawned on me that the topic that brings me most joy is music.  Without music I could not have lived, nor would I want to continue living.  No doubt I have kindred spirits throughout the world’s population, in fact I would be on safe turf saying most humans need some form of music in their lives to feel alive.  Even in the most strictly conservative societies music proclaims they are alive.  Indigenous peoples in ways are most in touch with the instruments that are conduits between their spirit and their vision of the higher power, the creative force in the universe.  In fact the whole purpose of music, its very origin, is to connect our sense of living with the greater whole that heart perceives.

When I was a little boy in the country (I wrote about my boyhood in an earlier post), I was very early on a singer.  I sang to myself, to nature, for the joy of singing.  What I would sing would be some of the old songs I heard on 16 and 78 rpm platters that my father had or his mother, some really old folk songs, some older C & W songs put out by artists like Hank Williams, and then along came rock n roll.  There was an old mesquite tree by the gate from our ranch to the highway, where I would wait every morning, climb up on that tree so I could see the bus coming, but feel safe from any javelin hogs or other imaginary predators while I waited in the cold, dark winter mornings for the sight of that yellow bus.  Up in that tree I would croon to the world, at the top of my voice, singing whatever I had heard on the radio. At my age then, around 9 or 10, I had gathered a pretty good collection of songs that I could partially remember and at least carry the tune, and singing these would make the time go by quickly, reducing my sense of freezing on those cold mornings.  Our neighbor down the road a quarter of a mile would laughingly tell my mother that she always could hear me singing, but I had no idea I had an audience other than the ears of nature.

I don’t know if the love for music enters we humans from the divine ether, or if its karma, or DNA, or the environment.  All I know is that music is not an act, it is the essence of living, although very unfortunately some people are just not tuned to the right frequency band to realize it in their own lives.  I have this notion that people who love music are better people, but maybe that is just my wishful thinking.

When I was 13, after we had moved to southern California, my love for music continued, as my mother also loved music, and our parents had invested in a nice record player console, and Mama had purchases several albums of great song standards.  One of those also had several Latin numbers, and upon hearing the bongo playing, I knew I had to have some bongos.  So Mama got me a set of cheap “hecho en Mexico” bongos, which I endeavored to play along with the record, until I broke one of the heads.  After that although I continued to love all the rock n roll and then black cross-over sounds beginning to air, I dropped my drumming until college years, when I finally saved up enough money to buy a good conga drum and another bongo set.  I would play my heart out, drumming along to albums by the Tempts, and other big name groups of the day.

Later when I was stationed in North Dakota, even as a commissioned officer, I played with a small soul band consisting of all enlisted guys, and we played on and off the air base (looking back I was lucky I wasn’t charged with fraternizing with enlisted personnel, as an officer).  I would also just play in my room, all alone, covering the rhythms of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and Curtis Mayfield’s “If There’s A Hell Below, We’re All Going To Go.”  I wore those albums out.  It would be minus-30 degrees outside my windows, but I would be all cozy inside, burning calories on my conga head.

As my Air Force days came to an end, my marriage to a lady who would be honored as “Dallas’ Queen of Jazz” at her passing some twenty-five years later, began.  For all those years I lived an up close and personal life in her shadows, in the world of jazz.  With her entre, I was able to meet some of the greatest names, to sit on a sofa next to her and Dizzy Gillespie, to have Cedar Walton often come to visit her at our home, to meet so many other greats (all this will be in my forthcoming book, Texas Jazz Triangle, A Historic Nexus:  My Love Affair With The Music).  I was not born to be a musician, however, but rather to be an engineer, which provided a blissfully rewarding career.  But when I was home, our domestic vibe was all jazz, with sounds of Coltrane, Ella, and so many other muses flowing throughout our home at all hours.

When my wife transitioned, it was music that kept me alive, that provided the catharsis for dealing with the grief.  Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Angel”, was one of the levers that got me through my deep sense of loss.  And since that time in my life, it has been music that has kept me going, fired my passion, allowed me to share love and joys.

Yes, music is life to me.  If it is yours I am sure you understand.  If not, I do pray you open up and let it come in.


On Being A Godfather

“Godfather” is a term that I have observed can mean many things, each often unique to the person who uses the word, either in referring to some man, or a man referring to himself in the context of someone else’s progeny.  It is a loaded term, and can connote many things on several levels of relationship.  Many years ago, before I became a godfather to first one, then five, then six children, I did not give any thought to the meaning, and just assumed it was a man who had entered into an obligation by agreement to watch over a child or children of another man should that man die, so the children would not be without the protection and guidance of a man in their lives.

That is, I suppose, one basic meaning.  However, as I discovered through my own experiences going on three decades,  being “this man” to six children, all young enough to be my own grandchildren, a godfather can be anything a father can be – except if the children still have their biological fathers somewhere in their lives, with at least some good connection – he can not be a substitute father.  All of my godchildren have or had some degrees of relationship with their fathers, and all three of those fathers I also had  some acquaintance.  Two of their fathers accepted me, although somewhat begrudgingly early on, mainly because I was able to give to the children materially what they were unable to.  However, when they were able to see that I was not trying “to steal” their children, eventually they warmed.  The third father even told me on more than one occasion that his daughter was just as much my daughter, given that I had played a direct role in her upbringing.  Hearing that from another man, to say the least, was touching.

As I said, as their godfather I never could fully be the same as their father:  the blood relationship, sometimes a potential, a longing in the child’s heart, to be closer to their father, is powerful and runs deep, and I have learned over the years that it is not my place to try and supplant their fathers.  It took time, a lot of trial and error, some disappointments in my heart when at times I forgot my place and wanted to be the “real” father, but knew I could not, or just by their talk or behavior, I knew I could never be their real fathers.  At times that really hurt, but the lesson in all this for me was to understand the true virtue of giving unconditionally, and not to assume reciprocity of the kind one may wish for.  This has made me a better human being I do believe.

While I could write a book about my experiences as a godfather – a white godfather to six black children, which makes it even more challenging – I will leave the reader with the thought that there are so many, so very many, children who need a responsible male in their lives, who can be there when they need a man in their lives, to share in their fun and laughter, to eat with them and show them how to wash the dishes, to encourage them in their schoolwork, show the girls how a real man should act, show the boys how to fix a broken bike….all those million things that help any child form their lives for becoming adults.  The man does not necessarily have to have a lot of extra money to buy presents, although I can say that being a godfather pretty much requires having at least some extra funds, or sacrificing, to provide a child what they need when they need it, just like a parent would.  And who are the mothers of children who need godfathers, or some male role model?  There are so many single mothers with children who need that help with their children.  How does a godfather relationship begin?  Well, an infinite number of ways.  All I can say is that a man who wants to be a father-figure, to help build a child’s life, should just be open to the universe with that thought in his heart.  Often, that latent wish will indeed be fulfilled.

There is a caveat however:  at times a godfather may feel very lonely, for there will be times when his heart yearns to be the real father, but on occasion must give way to the biological father’s own heart strings, or the fact that the child’s real mother has the final say-so in some parenting decision, which cannot be violated.   In those times, he will have to seek solace, knowing he is doing his best under circumstances.

My Boyhood On The Nueces River, A Collage of Remembrances

Most people in Texas, asked whether they have heard of the Nueces River, would answer, “No.”  Over my lifetime, mostly spent in Texas, I have many times been surprised by that answer, for in my memory this river and the Nueces Canyon it traverses on its way to the brush country of south Texas, then finally blending with the Gulf at Corpus Christi, should rightly be known to all.  As a boy who had the experience of “living on the River”, learning to swim, often immersed in its spring fed, soothing waters, the beauty and wonder of this River spiritually infuses my soul.

After our father returned from WWII, he brought our mother back to his ancestral “stomping ground”, the Canyon.  I came into this world about eight months after V-Japan Day, and over the first few years of my life we moved around a few times.  By the time took the lease on this river ranch of my story,  I was five, and my one sister had come along, but the age difference was such that I pretty much lived out my boyhood fantasies alone.  For about seven years our family lived there, near Montell, Texas.  The old ranch house, situated in a wonderful live oak bottom, home to a panorama of flora and fauna, including many great “hoot” owls, with its tin roof that allowed the rains to play sweet melodies and even concerts during storms, was only about one-hundred yards from the cliff like bank of the river’s swath. I was a very fortunate boy in retrospect, and my only wish is that more kids could experience the freedom and joys I have treasured all my days.  Sadly, a lot has changed along the river, and even more sad is that it generally is no longer safe for children to roam alone in the countryside.

I think it was in 1955 at dawn one late summer or fall morning, the family was awakened by a distinct roaring sound, unlike anything I, at nine years of age, had ever heard.  Our father looked out the window to the river where the sound was coming from.  No doubt he knew what it was already, but then he and then our mother were shouting, “The river’s up!” as he was grabbing his camera, and we four headed to the river bank.  It was a sight to see, one I certainly never had seen before, although I had seen at least one big flood washing an old truck washed down away, which at age four was pretty exciting to see!  But this was something else entirely.  From bank to the far bank the river bed was well over a quarter mile wide, and the embankment where we stood close to was, as I recall, probably thirty feet or more in height.

Except when the river flooded, depending on the rainfall on the Edwards Plateau to the north, the stream meanders this way and that, twisting, forming a deep pool here, shallow rapids there, and occasionally spreading out into slowly moving depths.  The river is constantly changing, and each pool and shallow has its own constantly changing ecology.  At its best the river takes on tones of beautiful blues, greens, true aqua colors.  The gravel bed on both sides may have huge sycamores, mesquites, small oaks, and any other variety of tree that happened to sprout and take root at any spot.  Straight willows, that for me were the ready source to make spears and arrows, abound.

But on that memorable morning the waters were bank to bank, a churning light brown soup, the water lapping over the top of the bank where we stood.  We stood there just a few minutes, sadly watching as livestock were swept along terrified, doing their best to keep their noses above water, a car or truck, trees, huge limbs, and every kind of manmade trash and junk moving in unison with them. Daddy had his Kodak movie camera going, when he and Mama realized that the river was topping the bank where we stood, so herding us kids, we all dashed back to the house.  I remember our parents grabbing this and that and tossing it in the car, for our get away.  Luckily our house was on a slight rise but by the time we got to the highway a short distance from our house and drove a half mile we saw the river had already spread, wrapping around our place and the ranch next to ours, and cutting off any escape.  After a while, our folks talking the situation over with our neighbors, Daddy decided to drive back to our house and found the river had swung around missing our house considerably.  Later that day, as it was clear the flood was receding, we piled back in the car and Daddy drove south so we could see what else the flood had done.  The road was not flooded by then, until we got to a major low water bridge crossing, and it was still very flooded and damaged.  What was “really cool” to me, a young boy, was our seeing that a light airplane had landed on the highway.  It was a Texas Ranger who had brought with him loaves of bread and other staples, a best effort to help out us stranded ranch families.  This was before helicopters were in wide spread use for emergency response.  I was let down that Daddy decided to head back to our home, and I didn’t get to see the Ranger take off on the narrow highway.

Over the years that we lived on this place, I had many adventures and experiences on the river, and each one was unique, as it became the site of whatever fantasy had come to my young mind that day.  The river was to our east, and to the west a mile or less were rocky hills, that give the “Hill Country” its name.  The ranch we lived on was 640 acres, and was divided by a State highway.  During those years our father was often away working at an Air Force base, as a mechanic or electrician, as his income from ranching was not nearly sufficient to feed and cloth us.  However, ranching was in his blood, and he was determined to make a go of it.  With him being gone so much, as I grew a little older Mama gave me more and more chores, like collecting firewood for the big fireplace where we would be turning in circles on cold winter mornings trying to get warm, milking our old cow, and “disposing” of any baby mice she might find in the old house.  Back in those days there was no fear of letting kids roam free, at least in that part of the world, so she would let me go where ever I wished, knowing she would see me when I got hungry.  Sometimes I would be on the river somewhere, usually within a half mile or so from the house,  and be so lost in my dreams or activity that I would forget it might be lunch or supper time.  When that happened I would hear her voice calling out from the river bank edge, yelling my name over two or three octave changes, calling me back to eat, which might be some fried venison from the deer Daddy bagged, and some homegrown vegetables, and maybe some mock apple pie and milk.  I was a skinny, lanky boy, and in her opinion a finicky eater, which caused her much chagrin at times.  I just remember that having to eat got in the way of living yet another adventure!

While I spent much time out in the expansive live oak bottoms around the ranch, and venturing to the back of the ranch to the hills, always with my trusty little mongrel dog, Amigo, running around getting into dog mischief, the river was close and inviting, and in the summer its waters offered cool reprieve from the scorching heat.  In the summer I would be exploring along the river, after frogs, or fishing, usually with a hand line, or swimming.  I usually would not swim by myself, but I had a cousin my age who occasionally would stay over, and he and I would bring our stories to life.  One day we ran across a small herd of Brahman cattle, that had roamed so long they were nearly wild.  We decided it would be fun to toss some willow spears at them, but after one toss, when they started snorting and pawing and charging toward us, we quickly climbed a nearby sycamore tree.  It took a while before these cattle decided we weren’t a real threat and lost interest in these two half naked boys.  We never tried that again!

Once he and I took a canoe ride from his house which was also near the river and north of our place, all the way down to the low water highway crossing I already mentioned.  It was a good twenty miles, longer if measured along the path of the river itself.  We spent one entire day to get to our house, where we spent the night, then we took off again headed on the second half of the trip.  We were as I recall no older than eleven.  It was quite an adventure, fishing, swimming, running rapids, and avoiding cotton mouth moccasins.  By the time we completed the trip, we were both terribly sunburned, and my cousin even having water blisters.

I always liked it when the river got on a rise, because as it receded to its final course, it would leave pools of water in all the depressions in the wide, gravel river bed, where there would always be fish stranded.  I would “harvest” the larger ones, taking them home to Mama, and leave the small ones for the birds and raccoons.  Easy pickings.

When I was about eleven I found out how to build what would be called now, a DIY spear gun.  I was actually quite good with tools and very creative with my hands, even doing leather carving and stamping, and lacing to create belts and wallets, so making a spear gun, with surgical rubber bands, aluminum tubing, a wood stock, trigger and spears made from straightened coat hangar wire, was pretty easy for me.  And it worked.  I remember a couple of walks to deeper fishing holes near the house with the whole family going, and I would be in the river with my goggles and fins, and my gun, looking for a nice big catfish, as they were easier to bag.  I think I may have speared one, but it was the experience then that was the thrill,  a boy hunting for his food in murky waters, peering beneath big boulders where there might be a catfish lurking.  Nowadays I wonder how many parents would let their son swim with a homemade spear gun that could indeed kill a person?  As I say, I was allowed to do about anything I wanted, and it was just assumed to be my rite of passage, to have these experiences.  We were country folk, and boys were expected to be boys, and one day be men.

In the winter I would also be on the river, usually with my BB gun or from the age of ten, my single shot 22 caliber rifle.  I was a “Deadeye Dick” with that little rifle, and ducks were the object of my searching during the winter, when the fog might be hanging eerily low over the waters on cold days, and I would be tippy toeing, peeking, to see if I could see the duck before it saw me.  Honesty, the ducks won.  I don’t recall ever actually shooting one, but again, it was the thrill of the hunt that thrilled me then.

Over those years I had so countless experiences I vividly recall today, like the early, dark morning I went to the shed where I kept my lamb I was raising for the 4H show.  I reached into the drum barrel where I kept the sheep food when all of a sudden there was this awful hissing sound, and  a huge chicken snake reared up right in my face.  I probably did the 100 yard dash back to the house in a record time!

I was always industrious, and like doing anything that would earn me some money, which allowed me to buy the little things like leather kits.  The two ways I could directly earn money was one, picking pecans to sell, and two, shooting or trapping animals for their furs.  Picking pecans usually took on a family outing, with Daddy using a long thrashing pole to knock the nuts from the tall trees that grew in one area of the ranch, and we would spend hours picking them, putting into large burlap sacks, then taking them to a store in town to sell.  Daddy and I would both go out at night and kill ring-tailed cats, which have beautiful long tails, and in those days there was a ready market for them for fashionable clothes.  I also had a “trap line” for a while, until I got so sickened at having to club the poor trapped animals to death I gave it up, but for a while I had several skins tacked to the barn wall drying to sell.  As I look back on those days, there are many regrets I have about killing animals, often just for “the sport.”  But I have long since forgiven myself, and today I am a vegetarian and a strong animal rights advocate.

There are a thousand fragments of my boyhood that I could share, and the totality is a beautiful collage that I treasure.  These experiences, my connection with the outdoors, the opportunity my mother gave me to be free to live like a boy,  the ranch life chores and work expected of me by both our parents, all constructed the person I am today, sixty years later.  Of all these though, the river fun times were the best.  In many ways, I now feel I am the River, and the River is me.


Beyond Grief, There is Light

I lost my wife to cancer in 1994.  My sister and I had lost our father a few years before, and two years after my wife passed, we lost mother.  Each loss was profound to me, and to my sister.  Each and every human being sooner or later must face the death of a loved one, and many deal with unspeakable tragedies of losing entire families or communities.  Each of us will deal with or handle our grief differently, but one thing I know for sure is that we must face our loss directly, not hide or run from it, if we are to find the Light that does await on the “other side” of grief.

When my wife died I was devastated.  We had been together since college days, had been through a lot together, mostly good, and were truly spiritually bonded.  We did not have children, and really did not have close mutual friends, so I bore my grief pretty much alone.  The grief I felt was to me, immeasurable.  I actually had pain in my bones, as if her spirit were withdrawing its connectedness from my corporeal being.  I did not know really how I could go on, and for a few weeks I did not care if I lived, although suicide was not an option in my mind, but I was feeling almost wanting to find a situation that would claim my own life.

So how did I work with my grief?  First off, I faced it.  In fact there was no way in my case I could turn away from it, or hide it.  Even trying to talk to friends, I could not even say her name without breaking down, so I avoided saying her name and tried to talk “around” using her name.  She had loved music, had in fact been a well known jazz singer in our locale, and I loved music as well.  Some how I found a song that became my grieving song:  Bobby “Blue” Bland’s song, “Angel.”  I would play this in my car on my way to work, and during the 30 minutes or so it took to commute, I would be sobbing the whole time.  Going back to my work also was something I forced myself to do, in fact I went back immediately, and the “therapeutic” value of keeping my mind on something besides my loss was very beneficial really, although one might say it was an act of escapism.  All I know is it reduced the intensity of my suffering, allowing me to work through my grief more smoothly.

I also did something else, a ritual, which is almost too private to share, but I hope it may help someone who stubbles across this blog.  My wife had been very spiritual – not religious – spiritual, and while I was not religious, I also was not very spiritual, although deep down I had an inner view of our purpose.  After my wife’s grand funeral at her childhood church, when I went home I could still feel that she was in our home.  Imagination? Maybe, but to me it was a real sense of  her presence.  I decided that I needed to help her make the spiritual transition, as I felt her “soul” was still so attached to what she had in this realm that she was not letting go to move to a higher plane.

I went to a local shopping center, where there was a black-owned book store (oh, my wife was black, and I white), and approached one of the owners, who I knew and who was well acquainted with my late wife.  I asked her if she could recommend a ritual that I could do, and she did.  The next day, for each of seven days, I laid out on a table in the living room, a clear bowl filled with water, and a white candle that I lit (a tall glass jar type), and each day I would add one  more bowl and light one more candle, and each day when I did so, I would sit in front of this altar, reciting seven times out loud, a special supplicating prayer, a Santeria prayer actually.  At the end of seven days, I immediately noticed something very different when I came home from work:  I did not feel her presence any longer.

Another thing I did, within a couple of weeks of her passing, was to write the entire story of her fight with cancer, our lives, what we did during that period, and our final days and the last night together.  It was like a recitation of the akashic record, so to speak, of the “event” that we shared.  This also proved to be very cathardic, although it was extremely difficult as I had to literally relive the entire experience in detail.

My wife was well known both for her singing, but also for her fashion.  She literally had a garage full of boxes, all neatly organized and labeled of clothes and shoes and bags that could not fit in our modest home’s closets.  I decided that every material thing she had I would find a good use for, giving away even her medicinal herbs to a friend of hers, her cosmetics to another, but her clothes I decided to sell and raise money for a scholarship.  This turned out to be a real project, lots of work, but also fun, even making me smile and laugh.  My wife had a friend who owned a boutique store, and she actually was about to leave the country, but she offered that she would take in all of my wife’s belongings and we would have a big sell.  We did, and raised thousands of dollars, which did allow me to set up a scholarship at the local high school for the performing arts.  I felt very rewarded to have accomplished that in her name, and I highly recommend those who can do so, to do that, or some equivalent.  It will give one the feeling that the loved one’s energy lives on doing meaningful work.

After several months, and many discussions with myself, I decided I needed to begin to look for companionship again.  I did, and that is a story in itself, but not for this blog.  All I can say is that by giving love, you get love back, 10X as is said.  Somewhere along the way you will come out into Light.